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10 of the best Prince tracks of the last 20 years

  • By MisterCharlie Author Avatar
  • 3 May 2013

So after hearing that the magnificent purple lust dwarf is planning an intimate tour of England’s smaller venues, I realised that OF COURSE it was time for a Prince themed 10 Of The Best. What to do, huh? OK, I thought – let’s push the boat out. How about 10 songs Prince wrote for other people? Hmmm? But, dammit, that’s been covered in depth, and the existence of this well written, finely researched list pretty much renders any additions pointless. Thanks guys. OK, so how about this: the general consensus is that Prince stopped making classics sometime round 1988’s Lovesexy – and certainly by the time 1994’s Come showed up things were getting decidedly dodgy – but if that’s the case then what the hell have people been listening to from him for the last two decades? Are we seriously saying that the last time he released a good song was round the time Ed Sheeran was born? And is there some sort of connection? Did the baby Sheeran steal Prince’s talent and channel it into maudlin acoustic folk for rappers? Is that what happened? Is it? Actually I’m pretty sure that didn’t happen. In fact I’m fairly sure that it’d only take a bit of looking to uncover a load of good tracks from the last 20 years – but there’s a problem.

Unfortunately, it seems that Prince still hates the internet, and, like an androgynous wee King Knut, he spends his time standing in front of the mammoth, global tide of information telling it (semi successfully truth be told) to TURN BACK. In effect, this means that he’s one of the few artists who’s album cuts, live performances and even some massive hits, have stayed off Youtube. This means that writing a piece on 10 great songs that you probably haven’t heard is going to involve a little bit of you’ll-have-to-just-take-my-word-for-it. Hard to accept in our information crazed world I know, but I’ve decided to plunge on regardless and have set up an innovative system to help me: Where there’s no video, I’m going to use the ‘words’ to describe ‘songs’ which I believe they used to call ‘music journalism’. Are any of them as good as Purple Rain or Sign of the Times? well...OK, probably not, but just cos the Godfather said it all doesn't mean you can't enjoy Goodfellas...

Hold onto your hats!

10. The Dance

A quick trip to the friendly (if a little intense) environs of the prince.org forum has given me a load of suggestions. This track kept on popping up, taken from 2006’s 3121 album. Musically, we’re in the same crooned soul territory of Money Doesn’t Matter Tonight, with a kind of regal, harpsichord undertone that makes me think of Prince jamming with Luther Vandross and syphilitic ginger philanderer Henry VIII. TBH I was expecting something a bit more dance-y (I’m simple like that), but this is still hitting the spot. 1-0 to the noughties.

9. The Most Beautiful Girl in the World

Opinion was pretty divided on this single from 1995’s The Gold Experience, but some 18 years down the line it sounds like classic Prince. So, yeah, it also sounds like he spent a lot of time in the 90s jamming to Charles and Eddie, and the rinky dink guitar line is pretty unpleasant BUT his falsetto is priceless. And look at the breathy spoken bridge – “And if the stars ever fell one by one from the sky// I know mars could not be, uh, 2 far behind” – What’s not to like? It’s the ‘uh’ placement that sorts the men from the boys.

8.  Fury

Fury, again from 3121 (which does pretty well out on this list) is Prince getting his rock ON. Head thrashing, fret hammering, guitar ransacking RAWK. If this song were a trouser it would be stitched from the shiniest of leather. If it were a haircut it would be a curly topped mullet. If it were a food stuff it would be whatever the most rockingest food stuff is. Probably a burger made of groupie blood. It rocks.

7. Chelsea Rodgers

In 2007 Prince pulled off his perviest trick ever: making people buy the Mail on Sunday. I’ve never worked out exactly why Prince decided to give the Planet Earth album away with a vindictive hate comic like the Mail, so I can only assume it was an act of extreme deviance. Maybe it’s because they both like talking about shagging and God. Anyone who sacrificed their eternal soul by purchasing the Mail got a mixed bag of an album, that, none the less, held a few gems. Chelsea Rodgers was a strutting bass, cock walking, summer breezin’ New Jersey work out, with female vocals straight from the Chaka Khan school, and Prince at his throaty best. Was it worth buying the Mail for? Probably not.

6. Somewhere Here On Earth

Buuuut when teamed with this slowmo number – also on Planet Earth – you’re home free.  Somewhere Here On Earth is drenched in Philly soul, all lazy orchestra and dreaming trumpet. Its light as air on a summer Sunday morning, floating from the speakers off to forever, as lovely as anything he’s written.

5. Dolphin

Back to The Gold Experience for this track. After having previously asked what would happen if he was your girlfriend, Prince (or The Symbol as he was at this point), thought he’d up the odds on this funky number by turning into a dolphin. Would you let me be your friend? he asks, knowing full well that literally everyone loves dolphins. Except tuna fishermen, and, probably, the Japanese .

4. Musicology

For loads of the noughties Pharrell Williams made a great living pretending to be Prince. This must have been pretty weird if you actually were Prince – there you were, pedalling the same tightass funk rock RnB  magic you had done for years, and then some next guy came along, and did exactly the same thing, but with dumber lyrics, and the world went WE LOVE THAT NEW GUY! That old guy is OLD and LAME he is surely OUT OF TOUCH. We want the guy who sings about lapdances… The album Musicology came out in 2004, and the title track off it is exactly the kind of vibe Pharrell was knocking off for tracks such as Beyonce’s Work It Out, but somehow no one really cared, and the Prince cut just faded away. The world is stupid. Anyway, here’s Musicology. I feel ashamed it’s taken me this long to recognise it’s banger-ness, and you probably should to.

3. The Greatest Romance Ever Sold (Remix)

Prince has always had a funny relationship with hip hop – first he dismissed it as a fad, then he ham fistedly attempted to grab himself a chunk with My Name Is Prince. It turns out that his best engagement with the genre comes when he stops trying. On The Greatest Romance Ever Sold, he busts out a slinky, disco edged groove, and lets Eve rap over it. The beat here is the sort of thing Puffy mined to such success with Bad Boy (I’m thinking Flava In Your Ear rap fans), the big difference being that Prince wrote and played his track, whilst that sneaky Puff Daddy just up and stole someone else’s. 

2. 1+1+1=3

2001’s The Rainbow Children album, is in retrospect, very, very good. Try buying a copy of it on vinyl and you’re looking at shelling out round £50, as fans who dismissed it first time round rush to snap up remaining copies. Taken from TRC, 1+1+1=3 is a freaked out dance jam featuring every single one of your favourite Prince party tricks – it’s got distorted, pitch shifted vocals, languid spoke/sung lyrics that are obliquely sexual, sudden drops into house party sound effects, call and response funk, and a lead synth line that sounds like a drunk, body popping cat. It manages to be both totally fresh and like everything he’s done before.  

1. Black Sweat

This one’s an easypeasy choice as number 1. The crazy compressed whistling noise is brilliant, and like all the best of Prince’s work it makes sex from tension, with a thrumming, taut melody that’s all hot restraint and promises of abandon. Some people sing about sweat and the end result is as erotic as a booty call from Davros, Master of the Daleks (May I direct your attention to Inner Circle’s Girl I’m Gonna Make You Sweat). Prince sings and babies BOOM. As a result, whilst he still lives and sings, we’re facing the real possibility of over-population related starvation and resource drain. Hey ho.

Til then here’s hoping I get tickets to the UK tour…